Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice

New Robina Institute Project Will Assist States in Efforts Aimed at Reducing and Controlling Prison Populations

The Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice is being supported by Arnold Ventures with a $530,000 grant for the upcoming “Prison Release: Degrees of Indeterminacy Project” which will focus on prison-release discretion and how the uses of that discretion affect incarceration rates. The 18-month project will be led by Professor Kevin Reitz (University of Minnesota Law School; Faculty Director, Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice).

The rise of mass incarceration in the U.S. was driven by a combination of growth in prison admissions and increases in time served, with longer prison terms the most important contributor after 1990. Despite the policy salience of time served, the influence of key “back-end” decision points on the lengthening of prison stays has not been adequately investigated. This project is the first to conduct a review of the discretionary powers that affect prison sentence length post-sentencing — both in statute and in practice — by analyzing parole eligibility and release formulas, good time allowances, mandatory-release ceilings, and other forms of “time-served authority” that engage after judicial sentencing. The research will span all 50 states to develop comparative measures of the “degree of indeterminacy” in each system, as well as identify the available administrative levers for reform. 

“This project is the first ambitious national effort to analyze the prison-release rules in all 50 states in order to estimate their potential impact on prison rates,” said Reitz. “It will also be the first to dig deeply into the data and practices of a single state that has partnered with us to closely investigate how its prison-release decision making is contributing to its prison policy overall. At the end of the day, we hope to give all 50 states a great deal of useful information about how they can better manage their prison populations through improvements in their prison-release systems.”

The project will begin on June 1, 2020.